ACADEMY CONVERSATIONS: Gunga Din (1939)

As part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences “Academy Conversations” series, two Oscar-winners, special effects man Craig Barron and sound effects editor Ben Burtt, share their insights into one of Hollywood’s greatest adventure films. This loose adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s poem was originally assigned to director Howard Hawks. He hired Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur to create a story about three wisecracking British soldiers (Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Victor McLaglen) who, with their faithful Indian water boy (Sam Jaffe), fight off a murderous religious sect in northern India. When Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby went over schedule and over budget, however, RKO pulled him off GUNGA DIN and gave it to George Stevens, whose perfectionism added $500,000 to the budget. The result remains one of the most entertaining films of Hollywood’s golden year. Part of the credit goes to the RKO special effects department, who turned a variety of California locations into a northern India so convincing audiences thought they were seeing the real Khyber Pass. From the credits, rippling across a gong when it’s struck, to the bagpipes echoing through the canyons as the British advance into battle, the film is filled with the kind of magic you can only find in classic Hollywood.

(d. George Stevens, 117m, 35mm)

 

In attendance: Ben Burtt, Craig Barron